2017 MBAs To Watch: Aaron Tyler, University of Washington (Foster)

Aaron Tyler

Foster School of Business, University of Washington

“Task-oriented, status-quo challenging, hardworking and adventurous.”

Age: 39

Hometown: I call Portland, Oregon my hometown, but I have lived all over the country and moved more than 30 times. I’ve enjoyed all of the places that I have lived for different reasons, but the Pacific Northwest is home.

Fun fact about yourself: I love building things, especially bicycles!

Undergraduate School and Degree: U. S. Naval Academy, BS in Political Sciences. (I know, I know, I have a BS in BS. But there was a lot of math involved.)

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I served in the US Marine Corps for the past 20 years as an Intelligence Analyst, Pilot, and Forward Air Controller. My last job in the Marine Corps before I came to business school was as the leader of an international liaison team. In this role, I led teams ranging from 4 to 45 marines facilitating military operations and exercises (both domestically and abroad) involving foreign allied forces and the US Marine Corps.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle.

I worked in the Post-Secondary Education team on a data analysis project and had an amazing experience.

Where will you be working after graduation? I have been working part-time as the Data Analytics & Development Team Lead for a small startup called Retrace Corporation. I see myself transitioning to full time work there and continuing to build the company’s analytics platform.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:   

  • Foster Veterans Association, VP of recruiting.
  • 2016 Venture Capital Investment Competition team.
  • Net Impact Service Corps
  • Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As an intern at the Gates Foundation, I conducted a deep-dive into the data available on minority students in post-secondary education. This work helped to highlight some schools that were out-performing their peers in graduating minority students. The data and visualizations helped my team prioritize their local partnership decisions and validated other work being done in the area. I am proud to contribute to advancing this cause. Bottom line: we need 11 million more students to graduate college by 2025 and there is no way to do that without getting to a higher level of success for all students.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In 2013 and 2014, I led a diverse group of young Marines through training and into combat in Afghanistan. My marines were hard workers and a few of them even led missions on their own, but something was missing from their experience. I noticed that many of them were struggling with some fundamental academic concepts.  All but one confided in me that they believed college was out of reach for them. I quickly organized a multi-subject group of classes, ordered some books on Amazon (yes, they deliver to Afghanistan), and we started reviewing math, English, history and science. It was a tough first few meetings, but weeks later they became believers in the power of education to advance their lives and the lives of those around them. I strongly believe in the adage: “Leave something better than how you found it.” As a leader, I view myself as responsible for influencing my teams in a positive way — giving them the tools to make positive change. I am most proud that upon returning stateside, five of my twelve young marines went on to pursue degrees in higher education.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Lance Young. I had professor Young for Entrepreneurial Finance. He made a lot of very complex material understandable to everyone. Along the way, he reminded us of the value of thinking through both the qualitative and quantitative factors that are affecting a given situation. I know this amounts to adding common sense into finance. My takeaway is the importance of remembering to push through analysis in order to affect action.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Quantitative methods with Mark Hillier. Was it math? Yes. Spreadsheets? Yes. But that isn’t the sum of its value. What the class really teaches you is how to find, measure, and quantitatively solve large, unstructured problems. The problems were a challenge, but what I loved was looking at a complex situation and knowing I could find a definitive solution to the problem facing my team.

Why did you choose this business school? From the very first interaction with UW Foster and the Seattle community, there has been an unmistakable energy, openness and willingness to help and I wanted to be part of that. I also wanted a reason to move back to the Pacific Northwest after a lifetime of military moves. Foster represented the rare and timely confluence of my personal desires and professional needs.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Getting to know so many different people and their stories! Our class is comprised of so many amazing people. I feel very humbled to be a part of this group that covers so many different backgrounds. I also chose Foster for this reason, as a place to learn from my peers.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? Just how incredibly busy school life is! This has to be the most overused line in b-school, but it’s true. There is so much to do within the school and in the local community. The only problem really is deciding what to focus on. I have been pretty busy in the past, but right now I juggle two part-time jobs and school. All three are so much fun I would hate to let one go, and somehow my wife and I still manage to make time to backpack the Wonderland Trail, snowshoe and ski at Leavenworth, and adventure locally.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I have spoken to a number of potential applicants about business schools in general and Foster in particular. I think that people who apply to Foster are usually looking for a combination of the program’s camaraderie, academic rigor, and access to community resources. I tell applicants to convey a compelling story and to simply be themselves.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Everyone is here because Seattle is growing right now.  I’m not sure that is really true. I think the attitude of the school and the surrounding business community are more important to most students. Both Foster and the Seattle business community seem to go out of their way to mentor their local students and are willing to simply roll up their sleeves to do real work. I think this kind of humble professionalism is what draws people to Foster.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not spending more time with friends and not being able to be involved in absolutely all of the extracurricular activities that go on in and around Foster.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire many of my classmates but a few come to mind right away because they have made my learning experience in the MBA program so much better.

  • Lydia Islan: She is probably the busiest person I have ever met and she still makes time to help anyone who asks. She does an excellent job of trying to add value by helping out, making connections, and asking really good questions.
  • Kristen Curtis: She is relentless and one of my favorite teammates to work with. She likes to make things happen and is always organized and professional to a T. I admire her uncanny ability to read people and instinctively know how to bring out their best efforts.
  • Greg Socha: His always funny, generous spirit and guidance during a difficult transition through first quarter! He helped me develop the left side of my brain again.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was sitting in a tent in Afghanistan (again) and I wanted to make a life change that would build on my existing leadership skills. I was on the mid-day watch reading a book about inventors and it hit me that I needed a change.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…in school to become a teacher!”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would make data-analytics part of the core classes.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To launch my own startup!

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My parents; they always pushed me to have integrity, work hard, and to value learning.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as someone who helped them when I could and who brought a valuable perspective to the classroom.

Favorite book: Jupiters Travels. It is a wonderful read about Ted Simon and his trip around the world on a motorcycle.

Favorite movie or television show: 

Movie: Star Wars


Favorite musical performer: Well, in surveying the music loaded on my phone it’s a tie between Billy Joel and Jason Aldean. I’m not sure what that says about my musical tastes, but somewhere between Piano Man and Lights Come On there are some great stories (and easy sing-alongs).

Favorite vacation spot: Bend, Oregon

Hobbies? Yes…lots…when I make the time. I love mountain biking, cross country skiing, backpacking, camping and sailing. The list goes on…



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